Preparing an Annotated Bibliography
A bibliography is a list of resources used by an author in her work, or recommended by an author to those researching a particular subject. Bibliographies may include books, articles from journals or magazines, web sites, newspaper articles, or other resources in different formats, like videos or sound recordings. Reputable bibliographies are invaluable resources in research. Bibliographies include citation information for each resource. Citation information is usually presented according to a particular style, such as MLA, Turabian, APA, or Chicago. For information about creating citations and bibliographies in a particular style, please see Citing Sources/Style Manuals page.
An annotated bibliography adds value to a simple bibliography because it includes a descriptive and critical annotation for each work listed. An annotation is a short (usually 50-150 words) paragraph following the citation which evaluates the work by describing it, and by comparing it critically to other materials in the field, or in the bibliography. The critical analysis looks at the work in light of other works available, with an eye toward the author's experience or authority, the publication's currency, the intended audience, the scope of the work, and the work's overall style.
An annotation offers more to the reader than an abstract. Abstracts often appear at the beginning of scholarly journal articles, and provide only a descriptive summary of the work. Annotations go a step further in providing some analysis of the work itself.
Your search for materials to include in your bibliography should be wide ranging. Be sure to check the library's catalog, databases appropriate to your field of interest, print indexes in the Reference Department, and other bibliographies related to your topic. If you need assistance locating these resources, visit the Reference Department on the 2nd floor of the University Library, or contact a librarian with your questions.
As you research a particular topic, you'll find useful resources in differing formats along the way. These resources, whether they are books, web sites, or articles, may be included in your final annotated bibliography. You may decide to keep some materials that you find, replace some with better materials, or discard some items as you work.
Citations in an annotated bibliography are created by following a particular style format. For information about creating citations and bibliographies in a particular style, please see the Citing Sources/Style Manuals page. You should also talk to your professor, as he or she may have particular guidelines for you to follow.
You will thank yourself later if you document your research as you go. Think of this as a research journal, or log. Go ahead and create the citation for each source. Include your feelings and thoughts on each source and any comparisons between and among sources that you can make as you proceed.
There is no need for you to answer all the questions in this section as you work to annotate a source. For some sources, you will be able to answer only a few of the questions. These questions are starting points, aids to get you started in your analysis. Use them to explore the work.
You can begin your analysis of a work with just the material that is in the citation.
What are the author's credentials? What is her background or expertise in the subject? Is she affiliated with a particular institution or group? Has she written other material on this subject? Have other authors or your instructor mentioned this author?
How current is the information in the resource? What is the publishing date? For fields like science and medicine, materials can become out-dated rather quickly. For fields in the humanities, like history, research materials tend to be valuable for much longer. Is this the first edition of a work? Has there been a second edition, or a revision? Revisions and later editions often include updated and additional material.
Publisher and Title
Who publishes this resource? Is the publisher a university press? Is the journal considered scholarly? University press publications are usually considered more scholarly than popular. Journal titles that are scholarly can be identified by using Ulrich's International Periodicals in the Reference Department (Ready Ref Z6941 U5). You can analyze the nature of journal articles yourself by using How do I tell if this is Scholarly?
After analyzing the citation, you need to really dig into the work. Look at the work itself. Is there an index? Is there a bibliography? Indexes and bibliographies that are carefully constructed and are useful are indications of the care taken in preparation of the work. Scan the table of contents to get an idea of the scope of the work. Read the preface to discover the intended audience and purpose of the work and any history associated with previous editions. The front or end matter of a work often includes information about the author, his or her affiliations and qualifications to write about the subject at hand. If you are interested in only a particular section or chapter, read that section carefully. As you examine the work more closely, you are analyzing:
For whom is the material written? The preface often indicates the appropriate audience for a resource. Is the material too technical or elevated for your needs? Is it too elementary? Would this book be useful only to specialists in a field, or can a general reader find it useful?
Validity and Objectivity
What sources is the author using for his or her information? Check the bibliography or references. Look closely at how the author conducted his or her research. There should be evidence for the author's conclusions and opinions.
What is the author's purpose in writing? The preface is a good place to find information about why the author felt the work was necessary. Purpose sometimes points to a personal or organizational agenda.
Is the information biased? Is the author trying to persuade you to accept his own opinion of the facts? Is there propaganda? (Propaganda occurs when the author is using information to hurt or help a particular group of people, or a particular organization or cause.) Most writing is biased in one way or another, and bias is not inherently "bad." For instance, when discussing controversial issues, one is more likely to be biased by one's own beliefs. What is important is that you recognize the existence of bias as you evaluate, so that you can better analyze an author's reasoning and conclusions.
Scope and Coverage
How does the coverage of your topic in this resource compare to its coverage in other resources you have seen? Is the coverage thorough or is it skeletal? Are there aspects of the topic that are better covered in another resource, or is this resource equal to or better than others? Answering these questions will usually require that you look at a number of resources. You may find your opinions of coverage changing as you look at more sources.
Does this resource add to the material you have discovered before? Is the author's treatment of the topic unique? To what area or aspect of the topic is this resource best suited?
Style and Presentation
Is the work organized well? Is the arrangement logical, and does the arrangement make the work easy to navigate and use?
What is the author's style of writing? Do you find it easy to follow?
It's never a bad idea to check for other evaluative reviews of a work. These reviews can give you an idea of the book's contribution to a field with which you may not be completely familiar. They can also point you to other resources you may not have found yet.
Your annotations should be in the form specified by your particular style manual.
The following annotated citation is in MLA style.
Walker, Barbara G. The Woman's Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects. San
Francisco: Harper and Row Publishers, 1988. Print. Feminist author Walker provides a guide to the language of symbols which seeks to reacquaint readers with the feminine, or woman-centered, origins of symbols which have often been co-opted historically by patriarchal religious systems and ways of thinking. Organized by type of symbol, and then alphabetically under each type, the dictionary is somewhat difficult to use without the aid of the table of contents or the index; dictionary arrangement throughout would make the text more friendly. Entries often include elucidative line drawings and sketches and references to the bibliography which can be found after the final entry. For a less-biased discussion of symbols, readers should refer to a work like Biedermann's Dictionary of Symbolism: Cultural Icons and the Meanings Behind Them. Walker's work provides a perspective valuable to any balanced discussion of symbolism.
Here's the same annotation in APA style.
Walker, Barbara G. (1988). The Woman's Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects.
San Francisco: Harper and Row.
Feminist author Walker provides a guide to the language of symbols which seeks to reacquaint readers with the feminine, or woman-centered, origins of symbols which have often been co-opted historically by patriarchal religious systems and ways of thinking. Organized by type of symbol, and then alphabetically under each type, the dictionary is somewhat difficult to use without the aid of the table of contents or the index; dictionary arrangement throughout would make the text more friendly. Entries often include elucidative line drawings and sketches and references to the bibliography which can be found after the final entry. For a less-biased discussion of symbols, readers should refer to a work like Biedermann's Dictionary of Symbolism: Cultural Icons and the Meanings Behind Them. Walker's work provides a perspective valuable to any balanced discussion of symbolism.
The primary difference between the two, beyond the differences in citation style, is that with MLA the annotation begins immediately after the citation, with no new paragraph. With APA, the citation begins a new paragraph. Both these examples are double-spaced throughout.
Below are some links to sample annotated bibliographies on the web: